CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Benjamin Hill, whose mysterious death at the Industrial Home for Youth prompted a West Virginia Supreme Court inquiry into the state Division of Juvenile Services, may have died of an overdose of an antidepressant he was prescribed, according to documents provided to the Gazette.
The medication, trazodone, is not listed in Hill's autopsy toxicology report, but records from Hill's file at the Industrial Home show him taking the drug on Feb. 22, 2009 -- the day before he died.
An employee of the Industrial Home for Youth, who asked that their name and gender not be used, for fear of retribution, sent a packet of copied documents from Hill's file.
"I believe... someone knows why he died," the employee said, "whether it is here or at the coroner's office."
Included in the documents is a copy of an unsigned handwritten letter the employee said is from a resident of the Industrial Home who was a friend of Hill's. In it, the juvenile claims he gave two other residents a total of 20 trazodone pills and that those residents gave the pills to Hill, 18, so he could use them to kill himself.
"He left me a note with officer Brughwell and it was asking me to help him die and get away from all his problems and help him get away from his charges so he didn't have to go to adult prison," the letter states. "So I helped him. . . Now he's no longer alive he died three days after they gave them to him. Now I have so much guilt on my shoulders I don't want to live."
An internal memo to Industrial Home Superintendent Joe Merendino does not specifically mention the resident's letter about Hill and trazodone but states that the resident's medical record was reviewed to see if he had ever been prescribed the medication.
"After such review it was found that this resident has never been on this medication while at WVIHY," the memo states.
It makes no mention of why the resident's medical record was reviewed to see if he was ever prescribed trazodone.
A list of psychiatric medications Hill was on in the days prior to his death was also provided to the Gazette by the Industrial Home employee. According to the document, Hill was prescribed and took 75 milligrams of trazodone each day the week before he died.
The toxicology report from the state Medical Examiner's Office doesn't list trazodone as being in his blood.
At least a trace amount of the drug would be found in Hill's blood if he took the medication as prescribed or in a larger dose -- provided the Medical Examiner's Office tested for it, said Dr. Yale Caplan, a consulting toxicologist and the former chief toxicologist for Maryland.
In general, blood screens such as those listed on Hill's toxicology report would include a test for trazodone, he said. There's no standardized screening, so each lab's testing is different, he said.
"One would have to check to see if it was specifically included," he said.
On Tuesday, Marsha Dadisman, a West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources spokeswoman, said the Medical Examiner's Office won't talk specifically about the case. In general, when someone is suspected to have overdosed, trazodone is included in the toxicology tests, she said.